BHealthy Blog

Tips for a Heart-Healthy Diet

By Margaret Songy, Pharmacy Resident, BHMC-North Little Rock

Life in the South is home to many wonderful holiday traditions where family gatherings are often centered on secret family recipes. This makes maintaining a healthy diet especially challenging throughout the holiday season.

Most of us can probably think about a family member, co-worker, or friend who has heart disease and is on a special diet because of it. The American Heart Association has developed an eating plan to help prevent risk factors that can lead to heart disease such as elevated blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol levels, and excess body weight.

Each of the American Heart Association dietary guidelines promotes healthy living with the development of proper eating habits and physical activity. The following is a brief list of the guidelines to follow:

  • Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits equaling five servings per day (one serving equals half a cup).
  • Eat a variety of grains to equal six servings per day (one serving equals 1 ounce).
  • Eat fish at least two times each week, preferably fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • Choose reduced-fat dairy products, legumes, skinless chicken and turkey, and lean meats such as pork and venison. The leanest cuts of beef are those with “loin” or “round” in the name as well as chuck shoulders and arm roasts.
  • Select fats with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon such as liquid and tub margarine, canola, corn, safflower, and olive oil.
  • Balance calories eaten each day with calories burned. To calculate how many calories you use in a day, multiply your current weight in pounds by 15 (if you are moderately active). For sedentary persons, multiply weight by 13 instead of 15.
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes each day. Some examples of heart healthy activities include walking, biking, or swimming.
  • Limit high-calorie, low-nutrition foods like soft drinks and candy.
  • Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol such as french fries, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, bacon, sausage, egg yolks, or other processed meats.
  • Maintain sodium (salt) intake at or below 2,400 mg or 1 1/4 teaspoons per day. The best way to do this is to avoid frozen meals or canned foods and to be vigilant in reading nutritional labels. Fresh is best!
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one 8-ounce drink per day for women and no more than two 8-ounce drinks for men.

Although the American Heart Association plan is medically sound and completely safe, it does require time to plan, grocery shop, and cook. There are several recommendations that you will need to implement for positive results.

If you are just getting started, you can make small changes to your diet that can lead up to a big impact. Examples of small changes can be eating the recommended number of servings from each food group each day, trimming excess fat off the edges of meats before cooking, choosing cuts of meat that are naturally lower in fat, and removing the skin from poultry dishes.

Substitution is another small change that can make a big impact. You can substitute two egg whites for an egg white and yolk as well as substitution of other seasonings and flavors for salt in your cooking.

Using low-fat or fat-free versions of dairy foods and condiments like salad dressings, using non-fat cooking sprays whenever possible, and swapping out oils that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol for other vegetable-based oils like canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower oil can also positively impact your health.

Trying different cooking methods other than frying to reduce fats and calories such as stir-frying, baking, poaching, steaming, or broiling and using vinegar and citrus juices instead of salad dressings or fattening condiments is yet another method of making healthier food choices.

In addition to getting plenty of physical activity, following the American Heart Association diet guidelines can improve your overall cardiac health as well as reduce your risk for other health conditions while giving you a positive approach to healthy eating.

You will find a variety of healthy eating tips as well as exercise and other wellness topics in the health library on the Baptist Health website.